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Bass Improv

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by markjsmithbass, Feb 9, 2014.

  1. Just started the new series on bass improvisation. This first lesson looks at the absolute basics of soloing. I've come at it from a different direction to most lessons. This deals with the fundamental aspects of improv and how to get started with some VERY basic exercises. Hopefully it can help people that have no real ear for improvised melody or that are trying to find a way into improv that avoids the standard "Here's a bunch of scales" routine.


    I'm approaching this with a bit of trepidation because I'm not too sure how it's going to be looked at so any comments and constructive criticism is welcome. This system of using individual chord tones and a very slow introduction to tension/release concepts was useful to me when I had to teach a foundation course (pre A level) to a bunch of punk rock players that had no interest in jazz or improvised music. They still had to learn of load of this stuff because of the syllabus so I came up with this idea of just coaxing a certain amount of creativity out of them without having to know a load of theory/scales/arpeggios etc. And it kind of worked in getting them started because when I first started with them they just sat there with blank expressions. By the end I actually had some basic solos coming back at me.

    Let me know what you think.

  2. GastonD


    Nov 18, 2013
    Belgrade, Serbia
    I actually happen to believe the chord tones approach IS the proper way to approach improv, much preferable to scales. with a couple of chord tones and some rhythmic phrasing once can already achieve some good results. Plus, once the passing and approach notes are introduced, it is easier to accomplish some interest since the tension-release concept is easier to understand and hear than with scales.

    At least IMHO...

    Thanks for the new series, I am looking forward to what will follow.
  3. lyla1953


    Jul 18, 2012
    VERY will done!
  4. davidhilton

    davidhilton Supporting Member

    Apr 13, 2009
    Los Angeles, CA
    You should know all of the vocabulary i.e. scales, modes, pentatonics, hexatonics, tensions, upper structure triads, blues scales, diminished, augmented, approach notes etc... Ive never heard of anyone comparing learning improv to either, a scalar approach, or a chord tone approach. you should do it all. What actually is a lydian mode? Its a Fmaj7 9,#ll,13. its all the chord tones plus the tensions all in one octave: 1, 9, 3, #11, 5, 13, 7...or 1,2,3,#4,5,6,7..or 1,3, 5, 7, 9, #11, 13. So is lydian a scale or a maj7 chord with the avail tensions? its both- thats why they're called "chord scales". Transcribe some of the masters, they use everything under the sun not just chord tones- which by the way are very important. :cool:
  5. Hi Mark, I really liked the video.

    Lots of useful tips and ideas.

    Being more of a reader than a watcher I personally would have loved some caption or text describing the exercises.

    I especially like the part where you work on rhythm.

    This is usually overlooked by beginners and yet rhythm is the one thing that listeners can anticipate easily, and this quickly leads to boredom.

    Maurizio Torchio, teacher and player
  6. Like I said, this lesson deals with the absolute basics of improv for those people that find it difficult to get started and have no idea when it comes to phrasing and tension/release concepts.

    As you can probably tell from the vid, I actually find it a real challenge to play something worthwhile with the basic chord tones alone. The earlier single note and 2 note examples are obviously and intentionally limiting but as soon as I get to putting all the A7 notes together over a larger distance I still find I'm wanting to put in some scalar motion. I accidentally put a bluesy minor to major third in there on one of the licks and it immediately sounds a little more interesting. I keep getting trapped into playing repeated phrases with the complete ascending arpeggio. Either that or I go back to milking a couple of notes at a time. So I think a big lesson to learn from that is that chord tones alone (unless navigating through a dense progression) can be very, very boring.

    Dave's right. It's worth learning absolutely everything and also transcribe, transcribe, transcribe. I don't transcribe hardly enough and every time I do I find another great phrase that can almost change the whole way that I look at melody. I've even been tempted to transcribe some of David's solo's from his live youtube vids. There's some great phrases on there.

    As for the scales vs chord tones argument that's raged on here forever, I have a very relaxed attitude towards it in that they're both just different perspectives on the same thing. The progression dictates the chord tones so they are aurally the main points of resolution within a tonal framework and the rest of the analysis comes down to personal preferences and semantics. The best thing to do is just study it all and recognise that a thing is a thing when it is and isn't when it isn't. One lick might be considered a very obvious scale (let's say a 3 octave Lydian scale ascending at high speed over a maj7#11) . It could also be analysed as an extended maj7 arpeggio but I think the obvious and incessant scalar motion over 3 octaves gives a clue as to the intent of the player. Then another over a C7 might have small phrase containing a B Db C. Is that a superimposed scale? No it's just a basic chromatic enclosure. If there were a bunch of other notes attached to that phrase that outline a Db7 then you could say that it's a superimposed 7 arpeggio a semitone above the chord in action. That's why it's useful to learn everything so you can see lines from both a personal viewpoint (passing tone vs scale) and from the intent of the original player.

    Of course, this is all in my humble opinion. I know this debate can get pretty heated and I don't consider myself the Oscar Peterson of bass so I'm certainly not getting heavy either way.

  7. Thank a lot. I was going to include a PDF like a normally do but didn't think there was much to write. But now you've mentioned it I think I'll write up a summary sheet, possibly with practice exercises. I'll definitely put the practice track online.

  8. Yeah, I've got all the Bergonzi books. I particularly like the Pentatonics one (as cliched as that probably sounds - loads of players say that)

    I might throw in some permutation style exercises at some point in the same way that I demonstrated the different start/end note combinations but I'm trying to avoid it getting too mechanical. The Bergonzi permutations are great for experimenting with and getting some new ideas but I've always seen them as being a bit overly mechanical when used for creating a kind of dedicated practice routine. They're great as a supplement though.
  9. davidhilton

    davidhilton Supporting Member

    Apr 13, 2009
    Los Angeles, CA
    Can I get a, Hell YA for The Gonz!!!
  10. davidhilton

    davidhilton Supporting Member

    Apr 13, 2009
    Los Angeles, CA
    Can I get a, Hell YA for The Gonz!!!
  11. GastonD


    Nov 18, 2013
    Belgrade, Serbia
    Wow, this thread is turning into gold!

    Please allow me to clarify - I certainly do agree that as making progress with the study of music, one should certainly strive to learn as much about the art/craft and the tools used in it. That said, however, you gotta start somewhere, and it is my opinion that chord tones seem to offer a better starting point, especially if one focuses on the TONES anywhere on the neck, rather than just shapes.

    Sure, as davidhilton pointed, once you rearrange the tones of the extended chords, you get scales, but... I'd say it is not just a haphazard decision/convention that in music education we talks about how to fit scales to chord, not the other way around.

    On the other hand, one learns about chord construction by working off a scale...

    Again, I am not saying that scales should be disregarded completely, just that chords offer a better reference point.

    Btw, did anyone note the "IMHO" part? :)
  12. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    +1000 for Berg's book on pentatonics. His other books are not shabby either :D